Written by Sara Woodcock
The growth of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Career-related Programme (CP) continues unabated. Schools from across the globe now offer the programme in all three official languages of the IB. The CP has come of age in a world where the need for new pathways in education is increasingly evident and the CP is at the vanguard of career-related education globally.
The CP comprises a highly flexible framework combining a Career-related Study, a minimum of two IB Diploma Programme (DP) courses and a unique Core programme which is largely designed by the school. There are four interrelated elements of the Core, for which a recorded webinar on two topics is available: Service Learning (SL), Language Development (LD), Personal and Professional Skills (PPS), and the Reflective Project (RP).
Of the four interrelated core components, the Reflective Project is the only one subject to external moderation by the IB. This reflects its important role as a demonstration and consolidation of learning throughout the two years of the programme. In essence the RP is an independent research project which draws together skills, knowledge and understandings from all parts of the programme and is excellent preparation for further academic study.
At the heart of the Reflective Project is an ethical issue related to the student’s chosen Career-related Study. The academic skills and methods from the students’ chosen IB Diploma (DP) courses are transferable to the RP. The other Core components support researching and producing the RP.
50 hours must be dedicated to the RP over two years and each student is allocated a supervisor who will support them and conduct the three formal interviews. Supervisors give formal feedback on one draft as part of the process.
When designing the RP in your school, key decisions and tasks for the coordinator include:
- Distribution of the 50 hours
- Could a weekly or fortnightly timetabled RP class be scheduled?
- Could the RP be embedded within the PPS course?
- How will students be supported to use their independent study time to work on the RP?
- If your school offers the IBDP programme, will the process align with Extended Essay?
- How will you assign supervisors ?
- How many students will each supervisor have?
- When will supervisors meet with the students they are supervising ?
- Will there be specific workshops on research skills, citing and referencing, academic honesty and other important skills?
- Will you create a student handbook?
- What will the involvement of the librarian be? Do students have good access to the library both in and out of school hours?
- If your centre does not have extensive library facilities, are there agreements in place with other libraries or access to university databases?
- What will be your timeline for key dates, deadlines, assessments and moderation?
Links with Personal and Professional Skills and Service Learning
Some schools opt to launch the Reflective Project at the very beginning of the course, but many seek to align their teaching of PPS with the RP, teaching the PPS theme of Applied Ethics alongside introducing the RP or not starting the RP until the Applied Ethics theme has been explicitly taught.
There are also potential links to be made with Service Learning. Responsible action involves ethical decision-making. If students choose Advocacy or Research as their SL, there is also potential for their investigations to support an ethical issue at the centre of their RP.
A student on a Business pathway, for example, might choose Research as their Service Learning in order to raise awareness of a particular environmental concern. Their RP might focus on ethical dilemmas such as the economic benefits versus environmental consequences of airport expansion, or the impact of cruise liners on local economies. In these examples, their research might well overlap both SL and RP.
When beginning the Reflective Project, students must first choose a topic and select an ethical dilemma embedded in the issue. The central ethical dilemma should present conflicting moral choices and needs to be an issue where a student can find evidence and argue a case for opposing perspectives. The choice of topic and formulation of a good research question is hugely important.
A question such as, “How does child labour affect both the children and the economy in a country and what is being done to prevent it?” addresses an important ethical issue; however, it is a closed question that leads to a largely descriptive answer.
A better focus and phrasing to the question might be, “Knowing that many poor communities rely on income from all family members should child labour be entirely illegal?” This is a more open question, presents a clear ethical dilemma and has more than one right answer.
Process and Format
Students have two format options to choose from for the Reflective Project, which are outlined below. But, whatever their dilemma and whichever format they choose, the process is the same:
- Select a topic and format
- Conduct secondary research
- Conduct primary research
Format option one: The first option is a 3000 word essay. This is far and away the most popular option! 90% of submitted reflective projects are in the essay format.
Format option two: An alternative format comprising a written essay (1500-2000 words) plus one of:
- Short film – 7 mins or 700 word script
- Spoken presentation – 7 mins audio/video or 700 word script
- Interview – 7 mins audio/video or 700 word script
- Play – 7 mins audio/video or 700 word script
- Display – storyboard or photo essay – 15 images and 700 words
For both options students are required to submit the Reflections on Planning and Progress (RPPF) form.
Things to consider when undertaking format option 2:
- Students of visual arts, photography, theatre or film may feel an alternative format gives them the opportunity to work in their favourite medium.
- Perhaps a play, an interview or a photo story illustrates their ethical dilemma best and conveys 2 contrasting viewpoints.
- Perhaps the student feels they can extract interesting viewpoints through a dialogue based approach.
Potential pitfalls of format option 2:
- The shorter essay must accompany the alternative format and meet all assessment criteria.
- Repetition or simply reformatting information will lose the student marks.
- The content of the additional format must be different from the essay.
- It is the content that is assessed and not the technical skills of the student.
- The two elements should complement each other, adding value to the other.
- An additional format, as well as an essay, may take more time to complete.
The Role of the Supervisor
Supervisors guide students through the writing process, providing support in the following key areas:
- Appropriate methodology – not just the collection of evidence from a range of sources but assessing their validity.
- Effective research skills – including the ability to evaluate research, consider the reliability of sources and understand bias.
- Academic honesty.
- Citing and referencing skills.
- Encouraging the use of the Researcher’s Reflection Space in order to keep track of thoughts and prepare for formal interviews.
The Reflective Project is assessed by the school and moderated by the IB. It uses a criterion based approach. The school assesses all Reflective Projects. Marks are then inputted into IBIS and a sample is sent to an external moderator to confirm grading. The RPPF form is used to assess criterion E. Marked examples and moderator’s comments of completed projects can be found in the Teacher Support Materials on the Programme Resources Centre, including a few examples of alternative formats.
REMEMBER: A third of the total marks is awarded for Critical Thinking!
The Reflective Project is an opportunity for students to make connections with all aspects of the CP from their DP subject choices to the skills they are developing in PPS. Schools and individual students can approach the RP in a variety of ways, but with this flexibility can come some pitfalls, so making sure students begin the process by selecting an appropriate topic, ethical dilemma and format is vital. We end this blog with some advice for students from previous examiner reports:
- Analyze evidence and present arguments supported by facts and illustrated examples.
- Support the different perspectives with informed opinions from reliable sources.
- Explicitly specify the connection to the Career related Study.
- Demonstrate logical reasoning in a sustained discussion.
About the Author
Sara Woodcock worked as the CP coordinator in a school which was one of the original pilot schools for the IBCP. She is a member of the IB Educator Network as consultant, site visitor and WSL. She is a contributor to the book “Moving the CP Foreward.”